I don't claim to be an expert on suffering. As a matter of fact when I look at my life I feel extremely blessed by God. I don't really know why He has given me so much but I do know that it is difficult for me to look at very many instances in my life as true suffering.
If you have read my blog then you know it really started as a place for me to process my thoughts on miscarriage and grief and all that entails and that has been my primary experience with suffering. There have been other trials or difficulties but nothing that I would put in the same class as what many people have to face. So over all I feel blessed.
The only problem is that if you are in ministry long enough (and I do think that I qualify for that now) that you will watch and struggle with people who are truly facing things that make them suffer. So even though I don't feel like I have directly faced suffering, I do believe that I have seen it occur and walked with others through it often enough (can you even really qualify that?) to make some observations.
As we have watched people around us deal with difficult issues I have asked "Why?". Not that I always expected God to give me an answer but you know it never hurts to ask. Sometimes suffering is obviously a result of poor choices, but some times it seems to be just because. The reasoning can be explained because we live in a fallen world that is decaying around us. While that is true and I don't place all suffering in the category of spiritual I find that the entire thought that the reason we suffer is "just 'cuz" falls a little flat. I guess I have a hard time reconciling a loving, good, gracious, merciful Father saying "just 'cuz". I believe the reality is that our God doesn't do that. We won't always have answers but I think God is much more involved in our suffering that than. I honestly think that God is intimately acquainted with our suffering and cares very deeply about it.
None of this reasoning actually answers the question of why people suffer. I know there are some awesome books written on the topic. These are just some of my observations of how and maybe why God has used suffering in the lives around us.
First I think God allows suffering because it teaches us interdependence on the Body of Christ. In America especially we are very self reliant and suffering totally undercuts our ability to do it all on our own. When we suffer and the church turns and puts its arms around us and lifts us up, we are the Body of Christ and we present that to a hurting world that needs to know Christ.
I think we face suffering to draw us closer to the heart of the Father. My children run to me or Tim when they are hurt. It isn't a question of what they should do. They run full force into our arms. They expect us to evaluate the situation and do what needs to be done. They trust us to care for them when they can't fix the problem. I think that is exactly what God wants his children to do. We should run to him and bury our head in his side while we wait for Him to do His work.
Suffering does remind us that we live in a fallen world and this is not our home. I am continually pulled between this world and heaven because a part of my suffering placed our son in eternity with the Father. I am continually reminded that even though in this life Josiah would have had trials and troubles, in the other world he is perfect, whole and complete. I long to share that perfection with him. I long to hold him and know him in the light of the Father.
Suffering also causes us to come face to face with our own sinfulness. I know it may not be popular but in my life I know it is true that many of the difficulties I have faced have been because I blew through God's warning signs. Suffering can be a result of the consequences God allows in our lives. I wish that I had chosen the route of wisdom rather than consequence in learning life lessons. Too many times I didn't and faced the harsh reality of consequences that didn't have to occur.
Suffering can be used to remind us that God is God and He alone is holy. How many instances in the Old Testament did God show Israel that He was holy. There are numerous stories of God's people taking His laws and words lightly and results were always disastrous. Again how many instances in our lives do we suffer because we don't recognize and respect God's holiness and His commands?
There is a reason behind our suffering and God has an outcome in mind. Some of our suffering does happen "just 'cuz" but we are told that other part of the story "all things work together for GOOD to those who are called according to His purpose". I believe that no matter the cause of our suffering, God takes that suffering and turns it into something that reflects His glory. Actually, I believe very strongly that this is the business God is about on a daily basis.